Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
For just a few seconds, close your eyes and relax. Go ahead and tilt your head back a few moments, don’t be shy; it isn’t often that a pastor gives you the freedom to daydream during a sermon. Get comfortable, clear your mind and imagine seeing Jesus. Imagine actually seeing his face, Imagine being there with him.
Who could see an image of Jesus? Who saw him as a baby born in Bethlehem? How about as a shepherd…or blessing little children? Who saw Jesus as healer? These are often the images we see of Jesus in our mind. Such images provide us with all of the best known metaphors associated with Christ. Jesus our friend, Jesus our brother, Jesus our comforter. We learn to see Jesus as the one who walks with us and talks with us.
I would imagine that few if any saw Jesus as King. Kings aren’t normal images for too many folks these days. The world’s kings aren’t the same as the ones in story books or fairy tales. Today’s kings mostly wear suits and look like presidents, or wear military uniforms and look like soldiers. Jesus doesn’t fit this description.
When we think of kings we imagine old men sitting on large thrones. They have long flowing robes and white beards. The kings of our imagination wear gold around their necks and rings on their hands. On their head sits a jewel encrusted crown. Jesus doesn’t fit this description either. The image we have of Jesus isn’t one of a man living in a palace. He doesn’t wear gold around his neck or rings on his fingers. He doesn’t wear a suit and certainly not army fatigues.
I’m curious, when you imagined seeing Jesus, how many saw a man beaten to within an inch of his life, his outstretched hands nailed to a cross beam and gasping for breath with bystanders mocking and taunting him?
Oh…and as for his crown? Thorns, sharp and pointed; digging into his forehead.
Sadly, according to our gospel text this morning, this is the description that fits our King Jesus Christ. Now, perhaps some are thinking that this is a curious subject for today. Most likely this gospel text wasn’t the text you may have thought you would hear in church on Christ the King Sunday. But for a year now St. Luke has been telling us a story, a story about our king and today the story comes to its illogical conclusion.
Last year about this time, Luke began the story by telling us about angels and dreams. He told us about Mary, and then about John the Baptist. Luke told us about the baby, God’s only Son who was born unto earthly parents in relative obscurity. This boy who would be king grew up to be a wandering preacher, a rabbi, a miracle worker feeding thousands and healing people from their diseases. As he grew in stature, he became famous, beloved and seen by many to perhaps be the one whom God sent to deliver the Jews and restore God’s kingdom.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem as a king riding on a donkey. The people shouted “Hosanna” and hailed him as their king. Yet by week’s end, they convicted him according to trumped up charges and crucified him. Thus today’s illogical conclusion to Luke’s story about Christ our king. How could this happen? Where did things go wrong? Why did the baby born to be king die in such a humiliating way?
Many people even to this day find the fact that Jesus died on the cross confusing. Many don’t understand why it had to happen, especially when the church proclaims him to be King of Kings and Lord of all. But perhaps the confusion is because we humans don’t really understand real kingship. Perhaps we can’t grasp the essence of what being the true king means.
We understand kings as leaders who issue commands that are to be obeyed to the letter of the law. Kings command and the people obey. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Yet, ever since Adam and Eve bit the forbidden fruit, humanity has had a problem with authority. Kings issue commands, others are supposed to obey no matter how they might feel about it. But we, in this age, don’t like that. Humans don’t like the idea of obedience. We do not like the idea that someone can “command us” to do something. The question becomes: “Do I want someone other than myself to be Lord of my life?” Those who hailed Jesus as King on Palm Sunday and then crucified him on Friday answered this question with a resounding “no.” Nearly 2000 years later not much has changed.
We like the Palm Sunday Jesus, he only shows love for us. But the Good Friday Jesus makes us a little uneasy. We adore the baby born in a manger, but the beaten and bloody Jesus of the cross points out our disobedience to God in a most uncomfortable way. Seeing this Jesus we would rather turn our heads. Maybe that’s why being a faithful Christian is such a difficult thing. We don’t want to face the truth about ourselves, that we are sinful and because of that it is us who deserve to die, not Jesus.
Yet as we look to Jesus on the cross, we begin to see something else; we begin to see what real kingship is. A King who would lay down his life for the sake of those whom he rules. Perhaps the conclusion to Luke’s story isn’t so illogical. Perhaps there is a truth that we often fail to see; it takes a king to truly save us from our sin.
The truth is that God wants so much to be in relationship with his people that he gave his only Son in order to save us. When asked if he was a king, Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world. It doesn’t function like earthly realms. The kingdom of Jesus Christ is a kingdom of mercy; a kingdom of forgiveness; a kingdom of grace. Seeing Christ our King on the cross reminds us that sin and the power of the devil has no power over Jesus Christ our Lord. We see the ugliness of our sin, but also the beauty of God’s love for all who believe this to be true.
Each week when we receive the body and blood of Christ Jesus, this same love and forgiveness is ours; a gift freely given of Christ himself. This is true sovereignty. This is true kingship. As Luke concludes his story for this year, this is the picture of Christ that we must learn to embrace, the saving power of our Lord and our King in his victory on the cross.
So once again I invite you to close your eyes, picture Jesus in your mind. What do you see? Yeah, me too. I see the babe of Bethlehem, the Good Shepherd and the one who feeds the hungry and cures the sick. But that’s ok, that’s who Jesus is as well. And next week Matthew will begin telling us the story in his words; the story of Christ our King.